March 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 3

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08_meetingLooking Forward to the
2008 ASA Annual Meeting in Boston

Plenary Session on “The Future of the American Labor Movement” Kicks Off the 2008 ASA Meeting

by Arne L. Kalleberg, 2008 American Sociological Association President

The opening plenary session of the 2008 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting—scheduled for July 31 at 7:30 pm—will feature a discussion on the "Future of the American Labor Movement." A central focus of the 2008 Annual Meeting theme, "Worlds of Work," is the role of unions in enhancing the quality of work and in providing workers with a greater voice. This opening plenary session will feature four prominent writers and activists— Marshall Ganz, Steven Greenhouse, Sara Horowitz, and Bruce Raynor—who are at the forefront of thinking and practice regarding the labor movement and its role in reversing the decline in union membership over the last several decades. They are also active in developing strategies that adapt to the new realities of the workplace and labor market.

The moderator and discussant of the session will be Marshall Ganz, who teaches public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Ganz joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in 1965. Over the next 16 years he gained experience in union, community, and political organizing and became Director of Organizing. During the 1980s, he worked with grassroots groups to develop effective organizing programs and design innovative voter mobilization strategies for local, state, and national electoral campaigns. In addition to his applied work, he now teaches and writes on leadership, organization, and strategy in social movements, civic associations, and politics.

Steven Greenhouse has been covering labor and workplace issues for The New York Times since 1995. In the four years before taking that beat, he was a correspondent in the Washington bureau of the Times, first covering economic affairs and then foreign affairs. From 1987 to 1992, he worked as a reporter in the New York Times Paris bureau, covering everything from Western Europe’s economy to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. He began at the Times in September 1983, as a business reporter covering steel and other basic industries. His new book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (Knopf, 2008), examines the stresses and strains faced by tens of millions of American workers as their wages have stagnated, health and pension benefits have grown stingier, and job security has shriveled. His book tells the stories of soft- ware engineers in Seattle, hotel housekeepers in Chicago, call center workers in New York, and janitors in Houston, as it explores why, in the world’s most affluent nation, so many corporations are intent on squeezing their workers dry; he also profiles companies that are generous to their workers and can serve as models for all of corporate America.

Sara Horowitz founded the labor organization, Working Today, in 1995 in order to represent the needs and concerns of the growing independent workforce. Working Today seeks to update the nation’s social safety net, developing systems so that all working people can access affordable benefits, regardless of the nature of their work arrangement. A key part of Working Today is the Freelancers Union, an organization of independent contractors, which is a unique and extremely promising strategy. As executive director, Horowitz takes an entrepreneurial approach, pursuing creative, market-based solutions to pressing social problems. In recognition of her efforts to create a self-sustaining organization of flexible workers, she was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1999. Before founding Working Today, Ms. Horowitz was a labor attorney in private practice and a union organizer with 1199, the National Health and Human Service Employees Union.

Bruce Raynor is the General President of UNITE HERE, the union representing nearly half a million workers in the hospitality, gaming, apparel, textile, retail, distribution, food service, and laundry industries in North America. He also serves on the Leadership Council of the Change to Win Federation, which was created by seven unions in 2005 and represents more than six million U.S. and Canadian workers. In these roles, Raynor is well-positioned to observe and direct organizational efforts in the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. service economy and to comment on the kinds of strategies that are likely to be most effective in addressing the concerns of this large group of workers. He has distinguished himself as a creative, aggressive, and strategic organizer with a broad understanding of the role of labor in the North American economy and society. He is regarded as a pioneer in the area of corporate campaigns, in particular the campaign against textile giant J.P. Stevens early in his career. He has also played an important role in extending health and pension benefits to low-wage workers.

By exploring various models and strategies for labor organization that reflect the changing American workplace and workforce, this opening plenary session will provide an excellent prelude to the plenary and thematic sessions that will address these changes in greater depth in the following four days of the Annual Meeting. Make your travel arrangements now, in order to ensure that you will arrive in Boston on July 31 to attend this exciting plenary session.

More information on the other three plenary sessions will follow in a future issue of Footnotes. small_green


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